UFC 251: Opposing Paths Collide for Aldo and Yan

Jose Aldo UFC
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 10: Jose Aldo of Brazil poses on the scale during the UFC 251 official weigh-in inside Flash Forum at UFC Fight Island on July 10, 2020 on Yas Island Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

José Aldo looks to add another major accolade to his already Hall of Fame resume, but Petr Yan is looking to turn a victory over the former champion into the start of his own legend at UFC 251.

José Aldo has already etched his name into the history books.  A decade of dominance and countless accolades along the way in the featherweight division have cemented that.  At a time when lighter-weight fighters were new to the UFC, he was building his case as stalwart of the pound-for-pound list alongside all-time greats like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Jon Jones.  But going into Saturday night, the Brazilian legend could be taking his last shot at UFC gold.

Over the past several years, losses to Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski have signaled a changing of the guard at featherweight.  At a time when another title shot was unlikely, Aldo elected to move down in weight to 135 pounds where a shot at then champion Henry Cejudo was much closer than regaining his old crown.  Despite much criticism and concern, Aldo looked no worse for wear in shedding the extra ten pounds in his divisional debut last December.  However, he came up short in a close decision loss to top ranked contender Marlon Moraes.  Despite this, Aldo’s competitiveness and star power led the UFC to booking him for another title fight to bolster the event of the year on Fight Island.  A victory would prove that he remains among the elite, but a loss would send him to the back of the line in a growing bantamweight title picture.

Enter Petr Yan, the surging contender from Russia who is looking to cement his own place in UFC history with a victory over the living legend.  The former ACB bantamweight champion entered the UFC in 2018 and quickly became a title challenger behind an active schedule.  While his first year in the promotion introduced him to a bigger audience, it was his second year that put him on the map as he continued to impress against well-known competition.

In 2019, Yan cut a path of destruction against perennial contenders John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera.  The performances set him up for his biggest fight to date, a marquee bout against MMA pioneer Urijah Faber.  Despite Faber having a successful return from retirement months prior, Yan dismantled “The California Kid” within three rounds and added another TKO finish to his resume to take his place in the title picture.  When Cejudo vacated the title in May, UFC President Dana White said that the plan was to book Yan specifically for the vacant title.  It was high praise considering contenders such as Moraes and Aljamain Sterling were all making cases for a title shot at the same time.

Stylistically, the boxing and speed of Aldo will be tested against the raw power of Yan.  The former champion should look to use footwork to get in-and-out with crisp boxing and avoid getting into exchanges in the middle of the Octagon.  By comparison, Yan should look to corral Aldo into the fence and force more of a brawl where he can chop away at the durability for the Brazilian.  Aldo’s output is figures to be higher so Yan must look to engage first as to not find himself behind on the scorecards if he is unable to do damage early.

For José Aldo, a victory at this stage of his career against a hungry up-and-comer like Yan would be a huge feat and add to his already Hall of Fame resume.  Yan would cement his place as one of the elite fighters of a new era and poise himself for a run against the other rising stars of the division.  For both men, a fight with Aljamain Sterling figures to be next in what promises to be an exciting contest.